COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio's confirmed number of people with West Nile virus has increased to 67, more than double the cases documented just three weeks ago, state health officials said Friday.
Two people -- a 76-year-old man in southern Ohio's Hamilton County and an 87-year-old man in Cuyahoga County in northeast Ohio -- have died in what officials are calling one of the worst summers for the mosquito-borne virus in the state and across the nation, The Columbus Dispatch reported. Statewide, 50 people have been hospitalized, with symptoms that began between July 10 and Aug. 28.
Nationwide, 1,993 cases have been reported to federal health officials, an increase of 403 in a week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's weekly update. Deaths from the disease this year have hit 87, up from 66 reported a week earlier.
One in five people who become infected with the virus will develop West Nile fever, according to the CDC. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and body aches.
As of Friday, 36 of Ohio's 88 counties had confirmed West Nile cases in humans, mosquitoes or horses, Tessie Pollock, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health, said. Cuyahoga County had reported the most cases of West Nile virus in humans of any county -- with 21, Pollock said.
Drought and heat in Ohio this year increased the prevalence of the West Nile-carrying Culex mosquito, Pollock said. The mosquito prefers to breed in organically rich water, such as water in the process of evaporating from ditches and catch basins where leaves and other matter accumulate.
"We knew early on that this was going to be a bad year," she said.
Health officials recommend that people use insect repellent or wear long-sleeve shirts and pants while outdoors, especially at dusk and dawn. They also advise eliminating mosquito breeding sites such as water-holding containers and other standing water.
The decision on whether to spray for mosquitoes is left up to local areas, and Columbus Public Health in central Ohio's Franklin County -- where four human cases have been reported -- increased its spraying to six days this week. The agency typically has sprayed three or four days a week, spokesman Jose Rodriguez said.
The agency focuses on areas where mosquitoes caught in traps have tested positive for the virus.
Columbus has found 110 pools of mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile virus this year, compared with 12 pools of positive mosquitoes in Columbus and nearby Worthington last year, said Luke Jacobs, a section chief with the city's division of environmental health.
Hamilton County Public Health in Cincinnati is not spraying, but monitors mosquito traps daily throughout the county, which has reported five human cases.
"When we catch a positive pool, we are there immediately," agency spokesman Mike Samet said.
He said the Cincinnati department also educates the public on prevention.
John McLeod, director of environmental public health services for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, said costly spraying is "usually a last resort." The agency works to educate the public, monitors traps and treats storm water catch basins and ditches with a substance to prevent mosquito larvae from developing into adults, McLeod said.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com